After being awarded the number 1 overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves have quite a decision on their hands. With two prized big men at the top of the draft, the Timberwolves will need to ultimately decide who they like more between Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor.
Born: November 15, 1995
From: Metuchen, NJ
Born: December 15, 1995
From: Chicago, IL
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Conventional wisdom would tell us that Okafor has the edge on Towns since he was the best player on the National Championship winning Blue Devils, and was previously the top high school recruit in the country. Taking a look at top-line statistics would also suggest that Okafor had a significantly larger presence on the offensive end for his respective team and experienced much higher usage than Towns did for Kentucky.
Scouts describe Okafor as the top low post scorer to come out of college in a decade, and offers a bevvy of post moves to keep opposing defenders guessing. He truly is an artist on the low block. His high basketball IQ is evident in his shot selection (demonstrated by his 66.4 field goal %) and his very low foul rate (2.8 per 40 minutes). However, critics will point to his low foul rate as an indicator of him not being able to assert himself on the defensive end, and he will need to gain a step if he does not want to become a defensive liability for his future NBA team.
Although Okafor averaged a full 7 points and 1.8 rebounds more than Towns, Towns ended the season with a higher Player Efficiency Rating while shooting 40% better from the free throw line. It’s important to note the difference in the two players shooting ability, as Jahlil’s range does not extend past 10-15 feet while Towns showed promise as a mid-range jump shooter with potential to be an average three-point shooter. Perhaps Kevin Garnett, who built his game on the mid-range jump shot, could be the perfect mentor for a player like Towns.
Digging into the numbers further, we see the gap shrink substantially in favor of Towns due to his ability to contribute in ways that Okafor doesn’t.
When analyzing the statistics per 40 minutes, Towns averages a whopping 4.3 blocks compared to only 1.9 for Okafor. Although Okafor has a full inch longer on his wingspan, it does not necessarily translate to defensive instinct as Towns clearly has the advantage on that end of the floor. The former Kentucky center averaged 1.4 rebounds, 0.7 less turnovers and 0.4 more assists per 40 minutes, further suggesting that Towns will have more opportunities to make a positive impact at the next level. The big question for Towns will be about his ability to develop consistency from 15-feet and out.
Both prospects’ statistics translate extremely well and both have a chance to be high-impact players at the next level. This decision will come down to how the Wolves’ brass wants their team to be defined. Adding Towns brings defensive grit that would fit in well next to rising young center Gorgui Dieng and defending Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins. Adding Okafor brings a top tier post scorer with blatant defensive deficiencies.
While the Timberwolves’ ranked 22nd in the NBA in total offense, they ranked dead last on the defensive end allowing an average of 106.5 points per game. Add a player with such high defensive potential as Towns in the interior to complement Andrew Wiggins’ defensive versatility on the wing, and you have one of the top young defensive cores in the NBA. For a team searching for an identity, it is imperative that Minnesota first and foremost establish toughness on the defensive end while their offense steadily improves in the coming years.
In what will undoubtedly be a very difficult decision, I believe that the Wolves should select Karl-Anthony Towns with the first pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. While I truly believe that both players will have a lot of success in the NBA, I believe that Towns has the potential to become a transcendent player due to his two-way skills while Okafor will become an Al Jefferson-esque high scoring yet poor defensive center.